MA Music: Open Pathway without Performance

Music as a discipline is more diverse than ever, and musicians and scholars in the twenty first century must be prepared to navigate amongst numerous streams of practice and research.

The MA Music Open Pathway offers you the opportunity to chart your own route within this exciting world. In consultation with the programme convenor you will design a unique course of study, drawing upon our extensive offerings in Musicology, Composition, and Performance. Modules from outside the discipline (e.g. a language) may also be available if relevant to your individual pursuits.

The University of Birmingham is home to the most vibrant and exciting Music Department in the world. We are an international leader in research and our programme embodies the latest cutting edge developments in the practice and study of music. 

 

You will choose four optional modules and complete a final project in the form of a composition portfolio, 15,000-word musicology dissertation or musical edition with commentary.

You will choose your modules and the format of your final project in consultation with the programme convenor.

A full list of optional modules is available below.

Why study this course

  • Excellent reputation – the Department of Music is one of the most distinguished in the UK, with a history stretching back to 1905 when Edward Elgar was appointed the University’s first Professor of Music and looking forward to the latest cutting edge developments in the practice and study of music. 
  • Fantastic resources available – the £16 million Bramall Music building offers outstanding facilities, including climate controlled rooms for the Centre for Early Music Performance and Research, multichannel electroacoustic music studios and BEAST, the department’s huge loudspeaker system for electroacoustic music. It is also home to the acoustically flexible and technologically advanced 450 seat Elgar Concert Hall, with acoustics designed by renowned acoustician and architect Nicolas Edwards (Symphony Hall Birmingham, Symphony Centre Dallas, Royal Shakespeare Theatre).
  • Taught by experts in the field – you will have the opportunity to draw upon the wide range of interests and knowledge held by the Department’s expert academic staff. 
  • The city – the main University campus is within easy reach of the world-renowed Symphony Hall – home of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) and the Hippodrome – home of the Birmingham Royal Ballet. The Department itself mounts concerts in Symphony Hall, the CBSO Centre and the historic Town Hall, which was the venue for the premieres of many major works, including Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius.

Modules

You will choose four optional modules from a range which typically includes:

Introduction to Electroacoustic Composition

This module covers editing and mixing techniques using proprietary digital audio workstation software as well as sound processing techniques using plug-ins. You will also learn source sound recording techniques, an understanding of diffusion and the MiniBEAST system and listening to repertoire, with a particular emphasis on the studio techniques employed.
Assessment: A series of practical assignments

Introduction to Global Popular Music Studies

This module aims to familiarise you with a field of study that has been emerging from the intersection of ethnomusicology and popular music studies. Assigned readings, discussions, and assessments will seek to situate popular music in a global context while also attending to the ways that global processes impact local musical actors, scenes, and styles. Particular attention will be paid to ethnography and its application to the study of popular musics. Topics and cases to be explored include diasporic popular musics, musical migration, recording and production, global music industries, musical labour in the ‘creative industries’, local music scenes, urban contexts, and media theory. This module will also provide an orientation to relevant fields of study (including ethnomusicology and popular music studies) through an engagement with foundational disciplinary texts as well as current debates.
Assessment: Written assignment and in-class presentation

Introduction to Instrumental/Vocal Composition

This module will provide an opportunity to study instrumental/vocal composition for students whose main focus of postgraduate studies lies within another related area, for example electroacoustic composition. During the autumn semester, three topics related to various compositional techniques are presented in the form of the lectures, followed by related compositional exercises and workshops. During the spring semester, you will focus on development of your own ideas through the creation of a longer composition (or a number of compositions), with the individual guidance from the tutor.
Assessment: Portfolio of compositions

Introduction to Musicology

This module examines issues that are exercising musicologists in the modern discipline, with a view to preparing you to conduct original research and ultimately prepare you for the profession. It is taught as a series of seminars by various members of staff, each introducing a topic related to their own research expertise.  
Assessment: Four 2,000-word essays

Introduction to Programming for Electroacoustics

This module will explore the use of computers for the realtime and non-realtime creation of music and/ or sound installations, within a lecture/workshop environment. This will make use of the free and open source DSP and music language SuperCollider. Topics may include sound synthesis, realtime processing, interaction, the development of graphical interfaces, etc. Knowledge of computer programming and advanced maths is not a prerequisite.
Assessment: A combination of practical and written assignments

Advanced Studies in Electroacoustic Composition

This module builds on your previous experience at Birmingham or elsewhere. It aims to expand your thinking and musical horizons through theoretical and practical work. The module includes listening, reading, programming, performance training and the use of a large range of audio software and hardware. The module contains six areas of study: sound generating, editing, mixing and processing techniques; source sound recording techniques (studio and field); approaches to spatialisation; diffusion techniques and the MiniBEAST and BEAST sound systems; advanced topics in programming for electroacoustics and digital signal processing; software critique; and repertoire studies.
Assessment: A series of class tests, including a composition project

Advanced Studies in Instrumental/Vocal Composition

The module contains four main areas of study: musical form (micro and macro); advanced studies in notation; repertoire studies; and relevant strands of advanced music theory. Topics covered will include proper editing and preparation of materials at a professional level, recent stylistic developments in contemporary music (e.g. post-spectralism, post-minimalism), and computer assisted composition techniques.
Assessment: A combination of written and practical assignments

Advanced Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Music

This module will provide the technical and theoretical background for working in this period and equip you with the skills necessary to proceed to a PhD in Medieval or Renaissance Music. Through a series of case studies, you will be shown a variety of analytical models to provide you with different ways of engaging with the music as well as of talking and thinking about it. You will also examine complex and controversial issues of performance practice.
Assessment: Written assignments and examination

Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art

This module consists of a critical examination of topics in aesthetics and the philosophy of art. It considers subjects such as: art and the nature of aesthetic experience; beauty, ugliness and the sublime; symbolism and allegory; the aesthetics of modernism. At its core is an overview of the German aesthetic tradition, involving a close reading of foundational texts by Immanuel Kant, G.W.F Hegel and their contemporaries in the early 19th century. It will also consider work by a range of subsequent authors, such as, for example, Walter Benjamin, John Dewey, Ernst Bloch, Benedetto Croce, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Theodor Adorno and Martin Heidegger. Attention will be paid not only to the conceptual arguments put forward by the thinkers in question, but also to the ways in which their theoretical tenets have underpinned the interpretation and criticism of works of art, music and literature.  
Assessment: Written assignment

British Music Studies

This module takes the broadest perspective on modern British art music, offering case studies in the work of the ‘great composers’ of the tonal idiom such as Elgar, Vaughan Williams and Britten, evaluation of the Anglican choral tradition and the British symphonic tradition, examination of the problematic status of modernism in British music before 1960, and criticism of modernist and postmodernist composition since World War II. Approaches are critical, analytical and sociological, with some reception history as well. The repertory under study is mainly choral, orchestral and chamber music.
Assessment: Two 4,000-word essays

Composition Tutorials

Over two semesters, you will receive regular one-to-one tutorial teaching, enabling you to develop your compositional technique and a self-reflexive critique of your own work. Composition techniques appropriate to individual needs will be taught and discussed during tutorials. In so doing, you will also be encouraged to broaden your range of compositional practice, and move toward the development of a personal ‘voice’.
Assessment: Composition portfolio

Contemporary Music Studies

This module studies the explosion of musical expression that characterises 20th-century and contemporary music, focusing on key movements (serialism, minimalism, etc) and concerns (tonality/atonality, aleatoric principles, etc). Starting from the musical ‘crisis’ of the early years of the 20th century, the course will address issues such as the separation of ‘art’ and ‘popular’ music, the impact of technology and the presumption of postmodernism at the start of the 21st century. The marked shift in aesthetics and music’s ‘function’ will also be discussed.
Assessment: Two written assignments

Electronic Music Studies

This module provides an in-depth examination of electronic music as a cultural phenomenon. Notably, it will cover both electroacoustic music and electronic dance music, studying them comparatively as parallel and often intertwined musical practices. Assigned readings, discussions, and assessments will focus on introducing you to a wide range of repertoires, genres, technologies and techniques relevant to both streams of electronic music. In-class discussion of readings and recordings will form the core of the module, complemented by hands-on activities that familiarise you with the materials and methods of electronic music. Activities and assessments will also build the necessary skills to conduct deep, contextually-nuanced analyses of electronic music. This course will also provide an orientation to debates and issues within fields relevant to the study of electronic music.
Assessment: One research project; short weekly assignments; in-class presentation

Fieldwork Methods

This practice-led module will build the skills needed to conduct an independent ethnographic research project. Throughout the module you will become acquainted with the various methods available for fieldwork and learn to assess their strengths and weaknesses in relation to varying research contexts. Topics addressed may include: project design and planning, ethics, audio-visual documentation, interviewing, fieldnotes, transcription, and online/virtual ethnography. Instruction and assessment will be hands-on, applying theoretical readings to concrete materials and activities.
Assessment: 4,000-word research prospectus and a series of applied fieldwork assignments

Laptop Ensemble

This module explores the rapidly developing field of laptop ensemble performance. The class will function as an ensemble group, working to develop and prepare repertoire for public concerts. Topics covered will include: techniques for improvisation; networked music performance; live coding; and composition for live electroacoustic ensemble. Works presented in concert will include student and group developed pieces, as well as ‘classics’ from the field. Students should have at least a rudimentary background in a computer music programming environment such as SuperCollider or Max/MSP, but the projects pursued will be selected according to the ensemble’s makeup each year.
Assessment: A series of class tests, including short compositions and a final performance

Special Study in Music

You will undertake a special study of a particular field of your choice under the direction of the leader of your pathway, which will typically require attendance at an appropriate series of lectures or tutorials as well as independent reading and research. Topics for study might include: vocalists in the Baroque era; topics in music analysis; or topics in critical musicology.
Assessment: Written assignment


Please note that the optional module information listed on the website for this programme is intended to be indicative, and the availability of optional modules may vary from year to year. Where a module is no longer available we will let you know as soon as we can and help you to make other choices.

Fees and funding

We charge an annual tuition fee. Fees for 2018/19 are as follows:

  • UK / EU: £9,000 full-time; £4,500 part-time
  • International: £16,290 full-time

The above fees quoted are for one year only; for those studying over two or more years, tuition fees will also be payable in subsequent years of your programme.

Fee status

Eligibility for UK/EU or international fees can be verified with Admissions. Learn more about fees for international students

We can also confirm that EU students who are already studying at the University of Birmingham or who have an offer to start their studies in the 2018-19 academic year will continue to be charged the UK fee rate applicable at the time, provided this continues to be permitted by UK law. The UK Government has also confirmed that students from the EU applying to courses starting in the 2018-19 academic year will not see any changes to their loan eligibility or fee status. This guarantee will apply for the full duration of the course, even if the course finishes after the UK has left the EU.

Paying your fees

Tuition fees can either be paid in full or by instalments. Learn more about postgraduate tuition fees and funding.

Scholarships and studentships

Scholarships to cover fees and/or maintenance costs may be available. To discover whether you are eligible for any award across the University, and to start your funding application, please visit the University's Postgraduate Funding Database.

International students can often gain funding through overseas research scholarships, Commonwealth scholarships or their home government.

Entry requirements

We usually ask for a good Honours degree (2:1), or equivalent, in Music or a related subject with a substantial musical component. Degrees in other subjects will be considered where candidates have significant professional musical experience and relevant qualifications.

Your application should include a personal statement of approximately 5,000 characters. You should use your personal statement to explain why you are interested in studying this programme. In order to expedite processing, please clearly state the pathway to which you are applying within the first paragraph of your personal statement.

All prospective students must also submit a sample of written work of at least 3,000 words - in English - in addition to the usual supporting documents. This should focus on a musical topic, with academic bibliography and references.

Learn more about entry requirements

International students

Academic requirements

We accept a range of qualifications; our country pages show you what qualifications we accept from your country.

English language requirements

You can satisfy our English language requirements in two ways:

How to apply

Please review our Entry Requirements before making your application.

Before you make your application

You may wish to register your interest with us to receive regular news and updates on postgraduate life within this Department and the wider University.

Making your application

When clicking on the Apply Now button you will be directed to an application specifically designed for the programme you wish to apply for where you will create an account with the University application system and submit your application and supporting documents online. Further information regarding how to apply online can be found on the How to apply pages

Apply now

Your learning will be enhanced by our extensive facilities, including the Bramall Music Building.

Support with academic writing

As a postgraduate student in the College of Arts and Law, you have access to the Academic Writing Advisory Service (AWAS) which aims to help your transition from undergraduate to taught Masters level, or back into academia after time away. The service offers guidance on writing assignments and dissertations for your MA/MSc programme with individual support from an academic writing advisor via tutorials, email and the provision of online materials.

International students can access support for English Language development and skills through the Birmingham International Academy (BIA).

Your degree will provide excellent preparation for employment and this will be further enhanced by a range of employability support services offered by the University.

The University's Careers Network provides advice and information specifically for postgraduates that will help you to develop an effective career and skills development strategy, and to make the most of your time with us at the University. The College of Arts and Law also has a dedicated careers and employability team to deliver tailored programmes of careers events and local support.

You will have opportunities to: meet employers face-to-face at on-campus recruitment fairs; attend employer presentations and skills workshops; receive individual guidance on your job applications, writing your CV and improving your interview technique; and access to comprehensive listings of hundreds of graduate jobs and work experience opportunities.

You will also be able to access our full range of careers support for up to two years after graduation.

Postgraduate employability: Music

Birmingham's Music postgraduates work in a wide range of careers within and beyond the music world. A postgraduate degree in Music develops a broad base of skills including general skills such as communication, problem solving and research, and also specific skills developed by practice and performance such as self-management, team work and presentation.

Over the past four years, 91% of Music postgraduates were in work and/or further study six months after graduation. Whilst some graduates pursue music-related careers, or go on to teaching and lecturing roles, others choose to use their transferable skills to follow career paths in fields including finance and the public sector.

Music postgraduate alumni profiles

Birmingham has been transformed into one of Europe's most exciting cities. It is more than somewhere to study; it is somewhere to build a successful future.

Get involved

The Guild of Students hosts over 250 student groups and societies to suit a wide range of interests. These include the Postgraduate and Mature Students Association which runs a regular and varied programme of events specifically tailored to postgraduate students.

In addition, you will find that each Department runs its own social activities, research fora and student groups.

Accommodation

We offer accommodation for postgraduates on or near to campus, although many of our students also choose to live privately in student accommodation, shared houses or flats. If you do choose to live in private accommodation, the University has dedicated support services to help you to find properties from accredited landlords.

The City of Birmingham

One of Europe's most exciting destinations, Birmingham is brimming with life and cultures, making it a wonderful place to live, study and work. Our students fall in love with the city - around 40% of our graduates choose to make Birmingham their home.